Under-fire Health Minister Dr James Reilly has said his government role and business interests are completely separate amid allegations of a conflict of interest over a nursing home investment gone sour.
The former GP – named this week on Stubbs Gazette over a €1.9m debt – claimed a series of complex financial deals and his role in Cabinet had left him unable to resolve the long running dispute.
Amid opposition claims that he deliberately closed public hospital beds to drive business for a private nursing home, Dr Reilly said he was in politics for one thing, patient welfare.
“I do not have a conflict of interest. I have a single interest and that is the interest of older people and patients in our health service,” he said.
“I entered politics late in life. I did so in pursuit of no business interests whatsoever.
“I did so because I passionately believe that we can provide better services to citizens. I passionately believe that we must put patients at the heart of our health service.”
Dr Reilly made the remarks in a statement to the Dáil after his name appeared in Stubbs on Tuesday over a €1.9m debt linked to the Green Hills nursing home in Tipperary.
The minister – also deputy leader of Fine Gael – was in Cyprus at a meeting of European counterparts when the story broke. He returned today in an effort to set the record straight.
In his statement he outlined complex ownership arrangements since the investment was first made in 2000 and a series of legal disputes since 2004 in the Circuit Court, High Court and Commercial Court.
Dr Reilly said he holds a nine per cent share in the investment and that he was one of five recourse co-owners. He is in effect a minority shareholder.
There were another eight investors, regarded as non-recourse owners, who were involved in the deal 12 years ago to buy land in Tipperary, build a nursing home and lease it.
Dr Reilly insisted that he has never had any role for the on-the-ground operations at Green Hills.
On taking the role as health minister in government in March 2011, Dr Reilly granted power of attorney over the business interest to a lawyer following advice from the Standards in Public Office. He was later granted the right to give power of attorney to another lawyer who was considered third party.
He said very significant efforts remain under way to resolve the ownership dispute and for him to be divested of the shareholding.
Taoiseach Enda Kenny has already said he has confidence in his minister.
Sinn Féin were the harshest critics of Dr Reilly suggesting that there was a conflict of interest and questioning the motive behind the closure of 296 public nursing beds this year.
The embarrassing listing on the defaulters pages of Stubbs Gazette is a first for Irish politics.
It arose after a group of the investors failed to comply with a High Court order that they must repay the €1.9m share of the overall investment.
Dr Reilly added: “I do very much regret that it has not proved possible to reach a settlement in advance of being named in Stubbs Gazette.
“There has been a suggestion made that I may have a conflict of interest because I have a share in a private nursing home. I’d like to state clearly for the record that nothing could be further from the truth.”
Dr Reilly said he is aware that a new lease is being finalised for the operators of the nursing home.
He said that lawyers had been trying to divest him of the interest in the business for 16 months but that a buyer could not be found, despite a second offer being made at a reduced asking price.
“I have repeatedly said that I believe too many people are going into nursing homes and long term care rather than staying in their own homes,” he said.
There was no opportunity for TDs to question Dr Reilly in the Dáil after the statement was made.
Dr Reilly’s business interests have fallen in to the public domain in the past.
It emerged last year that he and his wife were hiring out their stately home in Co Offaly while securing a tax break for its upkeep.
The minister, originally a GP by profession, also owns a commercial complex in Lusk, north Dublin, which houses a doctors’ surgery and a supermarket.
Sinn Féin health spokesman Caoimhghín Ó Caoláin said the explanation has not dispelled concerns over a health minister having a for-profit interest in private nursing care.
“The minister has left questions unanswered,” he said.
“The minister claimed that it is not the case that there is a conflict of interest because he is not the operator of the nursing home.
“Of course having a stake that may give rise to a conflict of interest does not require the minister to be the operator, merely to benefit or potentially benefit from the concern in question.”